Declan on the line.

Jacques Coeur was the richest man in France.

We came across Jacques when walking through Sancerre following a thin red line painted on the road. I’ve only seen this done in one other place – Boston – which is a shame as it’s a great idea. A line painted on the road takes you on a walking tour past all the notable places in the town. The advantage, of course, is that you just can’t get lost as long as you stay with the painted line (although it must be admitted that getting lost in Sancerre would take a real effort of will).

Anyway, there are numerous sights of interest spread throughout the town. From a working well from which we laboriously extracted a bucket of water, to several 15th Century houses belonging to characters of interest in French history, to the salt tower where the salt tax owed by everyone to the state was collected and stored.

One of the houses was owned by Jacques Coeur a man whose name became synonymous with fabulous riches and a bad end. Jacques was a trader who lived in the 1400s and became unbelievably rich. So rich that the King and most of the Court owed him significant sums of money. He held high positions of State, was friends with royalty and had a great and lasting effect on France’s international position. In the end though it all came to nought.  Spurious charges were brought against him, he was tried by those who owed him money and the result was that almost everything he owned was confiscated by the State and distributed to notables in the Court. He fled France and died not long after.

A poem written about him not long after makes the point: “If you haven’t as much as Jacques Coeur, it is better to live poor, than to have been a lord, and rot in your rich tomb”.

Talking with other students at the language school one of the questions that inevitably comes up is: how do you manage to travel around the world for a year. Part of the answer is that we’ve been incredibly fortunate. But another part is about making a positive decision to do so, to get off the treadmill of [needing more and more] house and things. That same thread seems to run through the decision for other round-the-world travellers whose blogs we read and who are doing it without the financial safety-net that we’re lucky enough to have.

Which leads me to the lure of the small town. Jennifer and I sat over a bottle of wine the other night and discussed how easy it would be to stay in somewhere like Sancerre. Property here is, compared to Sydney, just so cheap. The lifestyle is calm and simple – everything shuts down for two hours at lunchtime so everyone can have lunch. The air is fresh and the birds sing. If we pulled in our wings we could afford to live here indefinitely.  And might that not be better than a new house in Sydney, a new car, whatever?

It’s tempting to say we look at the Jacques Coeur story and take its lesson to heart. But ultimately taking a year and travelling or even a ‘year in Provence’ seems materially different to making a choice to stay somewhere indefinitely. It would be a decision of such enormity it’s hard to even contemplate without the help of a bottle of wine.

Hmmm… I think my thoughts and this post need their own red line to follow; not sure where I’m going now. Or maybe that is the answer, doing something like a year’s travel or moving to another country takes you off the red line. And once you’re off the line the natural fear is that you wont be able to find your way back on to it.

Actually moving to a small town in a foreign country? That takes you so far off the line that you have only the faintest chance of finding it again.